Independence Day typically marks the half-way point in the year, but it also tends to be a slower time for new releases. And yet, there were some gems released this week, while I also caught up on what I missed when I was homebound last week! Below are my take on this week’s new movies. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Starring: Gracie Marie Bradley, Giancarlo Esposito, and Niecy Nash
Synopsis: This new drama comes from writer Lena Waithe. It centers on a young woman with a gift for singing, Beauty (Bradley), whose life is controlled by her parents. Her mother (Nash) and father (Esposito) are ultra-conservative and religious. That clashes with Beauty’s identity and her love, Jasmine (Aleyse Shannon). Beauty is also talented, and while her father wants to control her career for a cut, Beauty resists. She also has to deal with a shady producer (Sharon Stone) and try to make her way in the world. This isn’t particularly a new story. It feels familiar and director Andrew Dosunmu does nothing to put a fresh spin on it. This movie feels stale and doesn’t delve enough into the characters and world to create something memorable. It makes sense that it was a midweek release from Netflix as it’s not compelling enough to draw a crowd.
Starring: Austin Butler and Tom Hanks
Synopsis: The latest from writer/director Baz Luhrmann is a look at the famous rocker Elvis Presley. The biopic begins at the end, winds its way to the beginning and chronicles Elvis’ life and career, spanning a few decades. It runs more than two and a half hours, but there’s a lot to tell. And Butler slides into the roll as Elvis with a flourish. His performance and the visual styling of the film are its highlights. But much like Luhrmann’s other work, the visuals are stunning and the run time is bloated. The story meanders, trying to tell events from the point of view of Elvis’ long-time manager, Col. Tom Parker (Hanks). His accent was a choice… and not one I would make. The film has its moments, but mostly I wanted to learn more about Elvis and his process. I wanted to hear more of his music, rather than having it used in ways to prop up the story. There are some good moments and the style here is incredible, but overall, the film as a whole misses the mark for me. I would have enjoyed a different kind of approach to the material.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking.
Endangered (HBO Max)
Synopsis: The newest documentary feature from HBO takes a look at the state of journalism worldwide, including in America. It follows the action in 2020 through the winter of 2021, a volatile time for the world. It covers the rise of COVID, the protests in the wake of George Floyd and the elections in the United States and Brazil. It’s a stirring look at the role of the press and the danger presented to the press throughout the world. The Washington Post says, “Democracy dies in the darkness.” This film embodies that idea, especially in the United States where press freedom is imperiled and papers are closing throughout the nation. I was deeply moved by the film, especially given the current climate. It’s one of the better documentaries I’ve seen so far in 2022 and well worth checking out.
Minions: The Rise of Gru (Theaters)
Starring: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Alan Arkin, Michelle Yeoh and Taraji P. Henson
Synopsis: The biggest release for Fourth of July weekend is the animated tale Minions: The Rise of Gru. This is the fifth feature film in the Despicable Me franchise, taking the action to the mid-1970s where a young Gru is trying to make a name for himself. His favorite yellow henchmen are in tow, following Gru, helping him and, on occasion, making his life more difficult. This one is a cute, animated film that has some fun moments and makes the most of its 87-minute run time. Arkin is fun as the grizzled veteran villain, Wild Knuckles, while Yeoh has some fun moments as Master Chow. But this is mostly about the Minions, who remain fun and adorable in bite-sized chunks. It helps that Gru is once again part of the equation as this story moves along. It’s a fun film for the family while failing to reach the creative heights of some earlier installments in the franchise.
Rating: Rated PG for some action/violence and rude humor.
The Princess (Hulu)
Starring: Joey King, Dominic Cooper, Victoria Ngo, and Olga Kurylenko
Synopsis: This action feature dropped on Hulu in time for the holiday weekend. In director Le-Van Kiet’s latest film, a princess (King) wakes up and finds herself bound and locked in a room with thugs. She quickly escapes and dispatches with the thugs, and we’re off to the races. It turns out the princess has been training as a warrior and, with the help of her teacher and friend (Ngo), she plans to free her family from the evil prince (Cooper) who was to be her husband. To do that, she has to defeat his personal warrior (Kurylenko). This one moves at a good clip, running a crisp 94 minutes and packing in plenty of action. King is great in the lead role, deftly handling the dialogue and character work along with the action, which is non-stop. I enjoyed the cast and I enjoyed the basic plot of the film. It’s not overly deep, nor is it incredible, but it was a bit of fun, light holiday weekend entertainment. It’s a decent addition to the Hulu library.
Rating: Rated R for strong/bloody violence and some language.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.